Is Seasonal Depression Real? 

When the sun goes down and the winter air engulfs you in shivers, all you want to do is bury yourself underneath warm blankets and dose off to sleep. Mood changes and lethargy are often what complement the winter seasons. However, such colder temperatures and shorter spans of daylight can leave a few people feeling extremely sad and low. Such people find themselves experiencing symptoms similar to that of depression. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression often experienced during the colder seasons. However, it is a lot more than just winter blues. The symptoms of SAD last for months, typically during the winter months, which get better with sunnier seasons. However, sometimes, people can also experience the symptoms during the summer months, getting better in winter. Similarly, the symptoms can also vary in severity and how much they interfere with the individual’s relations.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder 

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD falls under the spectrum of depression. It gets triggered by a change in seasons, usually beginning and ending at approximately the same time. Common symptoms of SAD include mood changes affecting how a person handles daily commitments, and how they think or feel. They might also experience extreme sadness and a loss of motivation. 

So if a pattern of such symptoms shows up during particular seasons, a person most likely is suffering from SAD. It follows a reoccurring seasonal pattern where the individuals experience symptoms lasting up to 4 or 5 months. 

Usually, SAD is diagnosed in younger adults, than in older. It also seems to be more predominant in women, in comparison to men. 

When does it happen 

For a majority of people suffering from SAD, the symptoms often show up during fall, continuing into the winter seasons. The symptoms often get resolved by themselves during the spring and summer months. However, sometimes, people experience the opposite pattern. They have symptoms of SAD during the summer seasons, resolving in the cooler winters. 

Some Common Symptoms 

There are chances that an individual experiences a few of the following symptoms in milder forms before they become more severe as the season progresses: 

  • Feeling sad and listless, during the majority of the day
  • Feeling sluggish and having low energy 
  • Having sleep problems 
  • Having difficulty concentrating 
  • Feeling hopeless, guilty and/or worthless 
  • Losing interest in the activities once cherished 
  • Overeating and weight gain 
  • An increase in carbohydrate cravings 
  • Feeling irritable and agitated 
  • Withdrawal from social settings 
  • Having thoughts of not wanting to live 

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD sometimes referred to as Winter Blues

  • Weight gain 
  • Oversleeping 
  • Appetite changes 
  • An increase in cravings for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Tiredness or low energy 

Symptoms related to summer-onset SAD sometimes known as Summer Depression: 

  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Agitation and anxiety 
  • Increased irritability 
  • Weight loss 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Sometimes, even episodes of violent behaviours 

Causes and Factors 

The specificities, when it comes to the causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder remain unknown. However, some factors that may come into play are: 

Biological Clock 

The Circadian Rhythm is essential in maintaining our internal body clock. In fall and winters, when there is a decrease in sunlight and the days appear shorter, there seems to be a disruption in terms of our body clock, as it tries to adjust to the new season. Since our internal clock regulates our mood, sleep and hormones, such a disruption affects us in many ways. This can thus induce winter-onset SAD. 

Brain Chemical Balance 

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in our brains that send communications and signals between nerves. Serotonin is one such neurotransmitter which contributes to us feeling happy and cheerful. People who are susceptible to depression, usually already experience a reduction in Serotonin activity. However, during the fall and winter months, with less exposure to sunlight, the levels are again affected. Sunlight helps regulate Serotonin. With less sunlight, the levels can drop, and depression can set in. 

Melatonin Levels 

Melatonin plays an important role in regulating mood and sleep patterns. So with changes in seasons,  the balance of melatonin levels in the body can be disrupted. That is why, during the fall and winter months, the lack of sunlight can stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in a few. This can result in them sleeping a lot more than usual and feeling low and sluggish. 

Family History

It has been found that people who often suffer from SAD usually have a family history of the same. Some blood relative might either have SAD too or is susceptible to depression in general, which results in the other relatives also getting susceptible to it.  

Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder 

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can worsen if someone is already suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. This becomes possible when, for example, a person with bipolar disorder experiences maniac episodes a lot more in a particular season. So if the person experiences mania, anxiety, and agitation in summers, he is likely to develop and go through depression in winters. 

Living far from the equator 

Studies indicate that SAD is more common among people who live far from the equator. This leaves the people living in the far north or south, with little sunlight in winters and long days in summers, more vulnerable to developing SAD. 

Low levels of Vitamin D

On getting exposed to sunlight, the skin produces some quantities of Vitamin D. Vitam D can in turn boost our serotonin activity, making us feel happier. Vitamin D can also be consumed through various food items or supplements, but usually in small doses. So it is safe to say that sunlight is one of the most important sources of Vitamin D. In the months with less sunlight, it directly affects Vitamin D levels and Serotonin activity. Thus, the fall and winter months can leave us feeling sad.

Treatment Options

If the following conditions are met, a person should consider getting in touch with their medical healthcare provider:

  • Symptoms of major depression
  • Depressive episodes occur more frequently during a specific season, as opposed to a random time of the year 
  • The depressive episodes arise for two consecutive years, during a specific season

If the individual is diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Depression, various treatment options can be considered. Light therapy or phototherapy, psychotherapy and medications (antidepressants) are among the most sought-after treatments. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), spending more time outdoors, getting more sunlight and taking Vitamin D supplements are also feasible exercises. 


Common signs and symptoms of SAD should be taken very seriously. This is because, if not treated, it can get worse and lead to problems. Social withdrawal, school or professional problems, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, along with other mental disorders are manifestations of more severe symptoms. 

It is normal to have days when you feel low and sad. But if it persists for several days, it can be a cause of worry. With motivation and concentration levels decreasing, appetite changes and sleep problems, the needed steps should be taken towards receiving help. 

If the necessary steps are taken earlier on, to manage the symptoms, they can be prevented from getting worse with time. So, for being able to head off serious symptoms, and in turn complications in one’s daily life, please do consider receiving treatment if you experience the above-stated symptoms. 

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